UNESCO and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will launch a multi-million dollar project to provide marginalized communities in Mali, Mozambique and Senegal with access to information and communication technologies, including the internet.

The project, drawing on UNESCO’s experience in establishing Community Multimedia Centres (CMCs), aims to meet the needs of local populations in getting and exchanging information in their language and to provide them with learning and training opportunities. The CMCs combine radio, telephone, fax and computers connected to the internet. Some of the services they offer are commercial, helping them become financially self-sustaining.

The project for the creation of 50 CMCS in each of the three countries, i.e. a total of 150 new centres, marks a huge up-scale for UNESCO’s CMCs project, which to date numbers 20 pilot centres in the continent.

CMCs operating in Africa today have from five to 18 computers each but the use of these digital resources by community radio hosts means that tens of thousands of people get indirect access to online information, including people with low literacy skills. In Dakar (Senegal), and Timbuktu (Mali), for example, CMCs work with microcredit organizations and are used to help small businesses with their book keeping. CMCs are also being used to scan ancient manuscripts and photographs of ancestors.

In Mozambique, the CMCs in Manhiça and Namaacha have signed a national code of conduct for community radio on election coverage, committing themselves to provide civic education and news programmes, explaining to citizens, for example, how and where to vote, and why voting is important.

The key to the CMCs success, according to UNESCO, is that they belong to, and are managed by, the communities they serve. The CMCs contribute to development through activities such as literacy classes, particularly targeting women, spreading health messages, collecting and disseminating information about agriculture.

The three-country project will be implemented by UNESCO with multi-stakeholder consortia constituted of national and international partners including intergovernmental organizations, government, civil society and at least one development bank.